BY CLEMENT E. LARRIN-KRIVICH
Greeting cards are sent to relatives, friends and acquaintances wishing them well on holidays and special occasions. Every year in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember my family sending out and receiving dozens of Christmas greeting cards. They also received Easter and special occasion cards throughout the year. This short article will attempt to tell the story of the Whitman greeting card.
Whitman Publishing Company entered the greeting card field in the early 1930s and produced multi-millions of greeting cards during the 30 years of their greeting card existence. Whitman Publishing Company was a subsidiary of Western Printing & Lithographing/Western Publishing Co. Many products were produced under the Whitman name.
Greeting cards can be classified as seasonal, which would include Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Also everyday cards – such as birthday, get well, congratulations, birth announcement, graduation, weddings, anniversaries, friendship, sympathies, condolences and others.
In the 1930s, Whitman entered the greeting card business and they were very successful for many years. However, stiff competition and inflation challenged the greeting card business that slowly declined and ended in the 1960s.
The cards were usually printed using the lithographic process on four-color offset presses. After printing, some cards were sent to the die cutting department to be cut in specific shapes.
For many years, Whitman generally confined their greeting card line to Christmas cards. Typical Christmas card themes (artwork) were wreaths, holly, poinsettias, candles, candy canes, ornaments, Christmas trees, children, religious, sleighs, snowmen, snowflakes and bells. Eventually, Valentine’s Day and Easter were added to their greeting card line.
For the most part, freelance artists designed the greeting cards. Freelance writers wrote the verses and sentiments being matched to a particular work of art.
Whitman greeting cards came in many different styles, such as: die cut cards, flocked (fuzzy wuzzy) cards, glitter cards, gold and silver foil enhancements, embossed cards and combinations of the above. Wallet cards and colorful money cards were also popular. Special inks that were used were Western’s Publishing own proprietary colors. The same colors were used in printing other Whitman products.
Flocking (fuzzy wuzzy), was a Western innovation. This process was primarily used on Christmas and Valentine greeting cards to enhance the card’s design. Flocking is a process of depositing small fiber particles (flock) unto a surface, such as red flock to enhance Santa Claus’s suit or the hearts on the valentines. The flocking process was used on other Whitman products. Besides red, other colors were used.
A large labor force was employed to do the finish work by hand, such as, applying glitter, special folds, ribbon ties, attaching foil enhancements to cards and creating boxed card assortments. The cards were generally prepared a year in advance prior to release for sale to the general public.
Whitman greeting cards were identified by the words “Whitman” or “Whit” printed on the back. Some cards may have “A & W Guild” on the cards back, which stands for Artist & Writers Guild. Artists and Writers Guild was a separate division of design and publication owned by Western. These cards tended to be a little more artistic/upscale. A & W cards were more everyday cards, unlike the Whitman cards that were more seasonal.
Whitman greeting cards were made to be sold in stores, such as Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, variety stores, department stores and book and stationery stores. They were displayed alongside other Whitman products, such as children’s books, puzzles, games, coloring books and paint-by-number books. Whitman salesmen were given mounted sample books where many of the cards were displayed and presented to customers for their consideration. Salesmen were assigned designated territories throughout the country, for which they would sell Whitman products to the retail establishments in their assigned territory.
Clement E. Larrin-Krivich is a former employee of Western Publishing/Golden Books Publishing and a collector of Western/Whitman Memorabilia.